How To Build A Good Composter - Knowledgebase Question

Jackson, MI
Question by lbayer1
March 9, 2001
What is the best way to construct a compost unit? I am not familiar as how it it suppose to operate along with ingrediants that could be used in it to help speed up the process.

Answer from NGA
March 9, 2001


I love composting, because there really is no "proper" way--no matter what you do, eventually everything will turn into compost. You can just let the organic matter sit in a pile, preferably 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, which provides enough mass but isn't unmanageable. If your prefer, you can use a variety of building materials to create a "structure." Four wooden shipping pallets wire together work well and are a perfect size. Or, stack concrete blocks; buy a length of "hardware cloth," which is a stiff wire with squares about 3" by 3." Don't use chicken wire, which is too flexible and bends around too much over time (unless you have a big supply of free chicken wire!) Also, many cities give out old garbage cans that have had the bottoms cut out. These work okay. They are usually free through city waste disposal/reduction departments.

To speed the process along, you need four ingredients: carbon (browns), such as leaves, straw, shredded paper; nitrogen (greens), such as grass clippings, kitchen fruit and veggie scraps, manure; water, and oxygen. An easy way to start out is to mix the carbons and nitrogens in about a 50/50 ratio. As you construct the pile, sprinkle it with water from your hose. The ingredients should be as wet as a damp sponge. Don't try to make the pile and then water it all down from the top. The water finds paths to pour through out the bottom! The pile should be at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet (1 cubic yard) to have enough mass to insulate and retain heat. As the microorganisms that are doing the decomposing die off, they release heat. When the pile cools, they've probably run out of oxygen, which is where turning the piles frequently comes in. The more turning and reapplying of moisture, the more quickly the materials will decompose. On the other hand, you can construct a good pile and then just let it sit. It will decompose, but take 6-8 months. Hint: the smaller the ingredients, the faster they will decompose. This is just a quick outline to get you started. For more info, a great book is "Let it Rot" by Stu Campbell and it's usually available at libraries and bookstores. Enjoy your composting!

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